Sale Sharks wing Denny Solomona will be hunting down his starting debut for England Rugby in his first Six Nations campaign
24-year-old Sale wing, Denny Solomona, is on the hunt for his first start in an England jersey during his maiden voyage of a Six Nations campaign. England kick off their 2018 tournament in Rome this Sunday where they will face Italy. Solomona will be desperate to earn his third cap against the Azzuri, but faces the tough task of unseating Leicester Tigers' Jonny May and Bath's British and Irish Lion, Anthony Watson.
If England head coach Eddie Jones is considering starting Solomona this term, Italy are likely to be the team the former rugby league man will face. The Italians will be facing the only side in the tournament they are yet to overcome.
During his first season as a rugby union player last year, Solomona proved a try-scoring sensation for Sale Sharks, demonstrating his rugby league pedigree was transferable to it's brother code. In just a half season in the Aviva Premiership, the New Zealand-born winger finished joint third place for total tries scored in the 2016/17 season. To draw level with Bath's Semesa Rokoduguni and Exeter Chiefs' Olly Woodburn in such a short period of time is a staggering accomplishment.
It is clear to see why Jones included the Sale wing in this year's Six Nations camp despite suffering a dry spell in comparison to last years accolades. However, in fairness to Solomona, it is clear to see he has been putting a significant focus into his defence and positioning as a back three player, diverting much of his attention to develop as an international class wing.
The reasoning for Solomona's focus on the nuts and bolts of his game off the ball and slight sacrifice of his try-scoring prowess are well justified, with his debut for England exposing some serious flaws in his defensive game. His first appearance for England in Argentina was both fleeting yet an eventful 29 minutes. Solomona's contributions in the final quarter were significantly influential, however, they were not all in his sides favour.
Have a quick watch of Solomona's first involvement in the match, it sets up an Argentinian try that gives them the lead.
Off an Argentinian scrum, the Puma's scrum-half, Martin Landajo, has ball-in-hand and is threatening the English defensive line. Solomona commits to the next man out, looking to anticipate the pass but instead leaves too much ground for flanker, Tom Curry, to cover whilst coming off the side of the scrum. Landajo capitalises on Solomona's over-commitment and makes the line break, resulting in a try from first phase.
Unfortunately for Solomona, his inexperience in both his newly adopted code and England defensive system cost him again immediately. The former rugby league player was caught too narrow in defence this time, left flat-footed and on the turn when centre Jeronimo de La Fuente makes another line-break for Los Pumas.
In fairness to Solomona, he shows good speed to catch up with the Argentinian, his work rate here cannot be faulted. However, you can fault his defence for the third time in just over a minute that occurs shortly afterwards.
After chasing down De la Fuente, Solomona once again finds himself flat-footed and is undone by the left wing Emiliano Boffelli, who duly offloads to full-back Joaquin Tuculet for a second try in short succession.
This time, his error can't be laid at the door of a new defensive system, he is outdone by his opposite number, plain and simple. Left flat-footed once again, Solomona was unable to make an effective effort in defence. The England debutant arrived on the field to a team six points up and was left with a side eight points down two minutes later.
While these mistakes were glaring and cost his side significantly, two out of three can be accredited to having played his first professional Rugby Union game only five months previously. When including the fact that he was learning a fresh new defensive system in a matter of a few weeks, it's hardly surprising he was caught out at international level.
Fortunately for the New Zealand-born back, his next major contribution was split up by a few chances to make some tackles in the tight, allowing him to settle into the flow of the game after a horror first few phases. 26 minutes and a George Ford try later, the two sides were drawing 31 points apiece. Solomona covers up the short-term memory of his mistakes with one of England's best tries of the year.
Watch Solomona's try below that sees him beat four defenders and run 30 metres for the game winning score, remarkable stuff.
Since his England caps last summer, there is no doubt head honcho, Eddie Jones, sent Solomona back to Manchester with some homework to do.
The Sharks' wingers inclusion in England's Six Nations squad was met with a handful of raised eyebrows following this season's form. However, it's hard to argue with Jones' reasoning while he sits on a 95% win rate in two years. But we are English, it's what we do.
Jones has clearly seen in Solomona a man to be moulded into a test contender, with plenty of potential in attack to both keep the current starters on their toes and threaten from the bench as one of Jones' famed 'finishers'.
So now we know what to expect. If Solomona starts on Sunday, we may not see the free-scoring man of last season, but a more rounded and reliable test wing with the ability to turn it on when needed most. With Italy being the opponents, this is as good a chance as he'll ever get to impose himself as a potential test star, looking to break into the first XV by the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.